So, a woman speaks deeply personal lines revealing her inner truth on television -- except the script was written by a man. Nothing new there. I mention this first to label it as a problem and set it aside. Seriously, we need to remember that the vast majority of words spoken by women -- on television, in film, in plays -- are actually men's words. Let's work on fixing that.
In case you haven't seen it, here's the clip. I appreciate how Louis CK puts forth some important social issues in comedy. And I appreciate this scene in which a fat(-ish) woman tells Louis "her dating reality" and he quickly adapts, as nice guys do, and holds her hand in public as she has requested. Then he ties the whole scene up with a comedically violent fat joke, at which she laughs obligingly, both of them thankful for the levity after her disclosures.
I'm grateful for his social observations, even though there's so much standard man-grudgingly-gives-a-woman-a-gram-of-humanity-and-it-nearly-kills-him involved. I love this scene because loads of people really are in the situation CK's script describes. And they don't know it.
Now, maybe some do. He clearly names the fear that most people have about protecting their spot in a beauty hierarchy that carries profound (though hidden) social rewards. He clearly calls out beauty privilege and the fact that women either have it or they don't (and that can vary through one's life) and that men can either have beauty themselves, or get it by association with a beautiful partner. He also names the way women feel responsible for hiding the pain of not having beauty privilege from men, lest they become aware of being losers in the game themselves. It could've been clearer that fat is just one of the things labeled as "ugly" in our culture, but wow, the thing about fear and hierarchy? It's pretty full-on in that scene the Internet has dubbed "the fat girl rant."
I can also see why many viewers are disgusted with the end of the scene. Many are saying, "whoa now, why does he get a gold star for this?" Let me explain that to you -- from the perspective of a fat, sex-positive woman -- just in case it's not clear.
There are two worlds out there with regard to how people feel about fat. In one world -- the one that controls most of the media and sells most of the products, the one that runs the politics and the public works -- fat is a travesty. The very word is a terrible insult from which you protect your friends and lovers. (And let's be clear, this is the world in which Louis CK must operate if he wants to continue having a TV show.)
In another world, increasing numbers of people of all body types live happily and healthily and with minimal regard for beauty tyranny. They work and walk and swim and make love and dance and sleep and get sick and well and love and die without organizing their lives around their hatred or suspicion or judgment of their bodies. Well, they practice living that way at least, because the other world is tough to ignore.
In that second world, fat is just a description, like tall or blonde or deaf. It's not inherently a problem and it's certainly not inherently ugly or unlovable. Increasing numbers of us live mostly in that second world, but we're super-aware of how that world is encased in the other. And because of how privilege is invisible to those who have it, it's less likely that thin people participate in the world where fat is just a thing, rather than being a terrible thing. When thin folks do participate in that second world, usually it's because they have loved one of us deeply, or because they have experienced their own body schisms with dominant culture. Maybe they are genderqueer or disabled or considered unattractive and they've come to the place where they simply say, "Damn your fascist beauty standards. Our lives are worthy!"
It's really too bad that there aren't more pretty-thin people in my world, because plenty of them hate their bodies too. In fact, most self-confident fat women have, on occasion, met thin women who are angry with them for living vibrant, relaxed lives when the thin ones struggle every day with unworthiness and body hatred. And wow, most of us simply don't relate to that particular Louis CK script because we don't spend any time with men who wouldn't date a fat woman. We don't spend any time with men who tell those kind of fat jokes. And we certainly don't consider it sad that men who act that way won't date us. I would love to see that female character in Louie evolve to the place where either she prompts he and his friends to change, or she simply moves on and finds better friends and lovers elsewhere. Because usually by the time a woman can articulate the things she said, that's the path she's on.
I'm not saying my world of self-love and respect-for-all is perfect. And I'm inviting everyone into that world anyway. My own body-love isn't always easy. It's a conscious choice. I know how making that choice frees me and as my body ages and changes, I have to free myself again and again. Most of the time it really works.
I love that Louis CK script because he has opened up a space for dialogue about the real problem. It's not that some women are fat, it's that fat women carry a stigmatized identity, and association will stigmatize the fat woman's partner too. There's no getting around it. Sure, there are disclaimers people can make to salvage some respectable social identity -- some fat people talk about being on a diet, or about how thin they used to be, or about how it was the pregnancy or the injury or the illness that made them that way. Some fat people and their pseudo-defenders will highlight their super-fitness or super-fashion sense in a quest to shed some stigma, but ultimately, we navigate a fat hating culture. And some of us are fat. The problem is not whether or not fat people can be attractive enough for sex, dating, marriage and friendship. The problem is a social hierarchy in which some bodies receive love, others receive disdain.
This is what we actually need to talk about and Louis CK -- despite the cringe-worthy stuff in that scene -- opened an important topic: social hierarchy related to beauty and how women are double-damned because they have to keep up appearances for the men in their lives too.
So, love Louie or hate it, here's what you need to do: Talk about how beauty tyranny, privilege and oppression operate. Opt out of any narrative that fails to recognize your complexity and your worth. Find your beauty and help others see theirs too. Use whatever you can from the media as a catalyst. My world welcomes you.